Uncle Rick explains the differences between college education in the Pre-Revolutionary 1960s and what goes on at colleges today.
Long ago, before 1965 say, college was understood to be for the intelligent and academically prepared among the young, who would one day both provide leadership for the country and set the tone of society. Perhaps ten percent, but no more than twenty percent, of high-school graduates were thought to have any business on a campus.
It was elitist and deliberately so. Individuals and groups obviously differed in character and aptitude. The universities selected those students who could profit by the things done at universities.
Incoming freshmen were assumed to read with fluency and to know algebra cold. They did, because applicants were screened for these abilities by the SATs. These tests, not yet dumbed down, then measured a studentâ€™s ability to handle complex ideas expressed in complex literate English, this being what college students then did.
There were no remedial courses. If you needed them, you belonged somewhere else. The goal of college was learning, not social uplift.
Colleges were a bit stodgy, a bit isolated from the world, and focused on teaching. Most had not adopted the grand-sounding title of â€œuniversity.â€ Professors were hired for a few years to see whether they worked out with the expectation that if they did, they would get tenure. At schools I knew, â€œpublish or perishâ€ did not exist. The students, almost entirely white and with the cultural norms associated with that condition, were well behaved within the limits imposed by late adolescence.
The purpose of college was the making of cultivated men and women who would understand the world to the extent that it has proved willing to be understood. This meant the liberal arts. â€œLiberalâ€ didnâ€™t mean â€œleftyâ€ or â€œnice.â€ It implied a broad grounding in languages, literature, history, the sciences, mathematics, economics, philosophy, and art and music.
The emphasis was on â€œbroad.â€ For example, if the student took a reasonably rigorous course called â€œA Survey of Art from Classical Antiquity to the Present,â€ heâ€”or, most assuredly sheâ€”could go into any museum or archaeological site in the Western world, and know what he was seeing. In discussions of politics or literature he would not feel like an orphaned guttersnipe and, having a basis in most fields, could rapidly master any that proved of importance or interest.
There was of course, the young being the young, parallel interest in beer, the other sex, and the usual foolishness that we geezers remember with fondness.
That is how things were. Then came what are roughly called the Sixties, actually the late Sixties and early Seventies.
They changed everything.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.